By Terry Hughes
Fall was here and so too was the battle to see who was the best on the gridiron in this holiday event between the Welland High Tigers and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. But this was not always the case because each school came from two different places.
When examining the city’s 1958 Centennial booklet, the section called Sports Highlights from 1862-1958 notes the fact that Welland High had won back-to-back championships in their division in COSSA in 1953 and 1954 against Peterborough. At that time Notre Dame was a private school and was playing against smaller schools in their division which led to a championship win for them in 1954.
Change was in the wind, however, as more students representing the post-war baby boom would swell enrolments requiring major expansion at both schools. The school spirit that had propelled WHVS to win the first Tribune Basketball Tournament, 1955 (Welland High 56, Thorold Linwell 48) as well as on the gridiron had waned because of construction issues and requiring half days off followed by staggered shifts. Enrolment at Notre Dame had blossomed and put the school on a more even plain as far as fielding a competitive team was concerned.
But one of the secret weapons that the Irish had was a priest and teacher (later principal), Rev. A.J. Bates CSC. He hosted pep rallies before each football game that really got the student body fired up – the excitement level still remembered by many to this day. I believe that both schools had moved into a new division called SOSSA at that time. So the stage was set for not only regular season games but the idea of playing a special game on Thanksgiving and in a new venue, Burgar Park, for a time. And probably one of the best games played there was the so-called “Mud Bowl” in the pouring rain.
The yearbook photo, above, shows a 1959 game held at the WHVS campus with the Fighting Irish on the move toward a touchdown. The Irish won that year’s Thanksgiving Day game, 12-8 while the Tigers won the regular season matchup, 25-7.
Over the years, the Thanksgiving Day game became a symbol of the rivalry that existed between the two schools.
Editor’s note: For your added enjoyment this Thanksgiving weekend, you can watch a video of the 1965 Thanksgiving Day clash between the Tigers and Irish. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFdTMSyLfas
Next Column: A Tight Squeeze
(Terry Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. In 1959, he was a Grade 11-B student at Notre Dame. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)